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Why isn't my 3-year-old interested in counting or learning the alphabet?
Mary, Mary, don’t be contrary. Let your little boy grow! At the risk of sounding trite, I simply have to say he’s not “ready.” In fact, it is a rare 3-year-old who is ready to learn the alphabet or to count. If they do say or sing the alphabet (as in the old song, “A,B,C,D,E,F,G …") the letters don’t mean anything. And if they can count to 10, they usually can’t match the name of the numeral with its appropriate number of items (for example, if asked to count a pile of seven objects, they may hit one object two or three times and skip others altogether).

You say he loves to be read to, and that is the best way in the world to learn to read. And I don’t mean learn to point to certain words like “the” or “and.” Rather, that is the best way in the world for him to learn vocabulary, to associate reading with pleasure (being held close to you), and to associate sounds (words) with pictures and eventually printed or written words. Many studies have shown the best readers in elementary school are children who have been consistently read to during the early years.

As for early math, help him understand concepts like big and little, more and less, by playing little games with him. Let him break a cookie into two parts and say, “Now we both have half.” Toys are a big help. Enjoy some block play with him. Give him some blocks and you take an unequal number. Line them up, one against one. Ask, “Who has more?” “Who has fewer?” (or “less,” if you don’t want to be too fancy). Then, seeing to it that you both have the same number, comment, “Hey, we’re equal.” Then, just to make you feel better, take his index finger and say, “Let’s count the blocks,” making certain you touch each block only one time! That’s enough math for today.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education